The Missouri Legislature has voted to “reform” the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, a system designed for the selection of judges based on merit rather than on politics. The Plan’s inception in 1940 was roused by the corruption and widespread abuses of the judicial system…namely, the increasing role of politics in judicial selection and decision making. The plan was integrated into the Missouri Constitution in 1976. Today, the independence of our judiciary, which has been secured and safeguarded by the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan for over 70 years, is threatened by proposed resolution SJR51.
SJR51, passed in both the House and Senate, will appear on the November ballot as a referendum to amend the Missouri Constitution’s Nonpartisan Court Plan. Proponents of the “reform” claim the change will take power away from special interests and return it to the citizens of our state. Are they correct? To whom is this “power” returning?
Under the current Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, the judicial panel for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals is selected by the Appellate Judicial Commission. The Appellate Judicial Commission is composed of: three lawyers elected by the lawyers of the Missouri Bar for six year staggered terms, three citizens appointed by the Governor for six year staggered terms, and the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court. Those seven members choose three people after reviewing their applications, letters of recommendation, and the public interviews; the Governor then chooses a judge from those final three. The appointed judge, after being on the bench at least one year, then stands for a retention election in the next general election. At that time, voters have a chance to say whether or not a judge will stay in his or her position.
Lawyers Governor Judiciary
LLL GGG J → 1, 2, 3
Governor’s choice wins
Under the proposed resolution, SJR51, the composition of the Appellate Judicial Commission will change. First, the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court will no longer be a member; rather, a retired judge will be a non-voting member. Second, four citizens will be appointed by the Governor; two when the governor is sworn in, and two after two years of being in office. The three lawyers elected by lawyers will remain the same. The resolution will allow the Governor to have control of the Appellate Judicial Commission (4 to 3) within two years of being in office.
LLL GGGG → 1, 2, 3
Governor’s choice wins
The proponents of SJR51 are incorrect; the resolution will not return power to the citizens. SJR51 will return power to the Governor. It removes the single judicial vote from the commission and gives that vote (along with majority) to the Governor. The “reform” will tip the scales (4 to 3) in favor of politics.
SJR51 threatens the independence of our judiciary. We oppose it.